If the oldest profession in the world is prostitution, the oldest story must be a romance. To quote Mrs. Potts from Beauty & the Beast, it’s a tale as old as time.
As today is Valentine’s Day, we at Claret Press went around the office talking of love stories. The greatest challenge, we decided, is to create something new: a love story we hadn’t read before. After all, is there any genre more full with hoary chestnuts? Anyone can write a cheesy love story (vampires dripping, bosoms heaving). But to say something new about something so old, that takes real skill.
After all, our Western canon starts with one of the greatest love stories of all times. The Iliad is not just a war epic but also a love story, or stories by the time you add in the ménage à trois of Achilles, Briseis and Patroclus. And as a bonus, we get the Odyssey, another extraordinary love story between two people well into their middle ages.
By the time we get to the 17th c., the bard with the beard is already bored. Romances were his bread and butter. But by his mid-30s, he just couldn't keep churning the pap out. And so he created Much Ado About Nothing. Shakespeare’s witty lovers, Benedick and Beatrice, steal the show from the star-crossed young lovers that people paid good money to watch get their Happy Ever After. But Shakespeare just can’t be asked to care about snot-nosed puppy love. And so we don’t. Instead he made two minor characters, who should do little other than swell a scene or two, the source of the play’s energy. With sarcastic put downs about love and marriage, they battle their way down the aisle. If that’s not romance, what is.
And so we go through the centuries. Pride and Prejudice gets a nod for making the love story explicitly about money. Jane Eyre scores one for the feminists by refusing it unless she first is accepted as her lover’s equal. And then there’s the twisted love of Great Expectations, which brings every character down but leaves them wiser in the end. And I’m not sure there is any real love at all in Wuthering Heights. And the publishing phenomenon of 50 Shades is too painful a topic for us.
Really we do think that every possible variation on the theme has been thoroughly explored.
And yet. The wellspring of creativity thrusts ever upward. (sorry)
Here at Claret Press, we have published some truly original love stories.
Our personal favourite is the short story “Bruised” from the collection Surface Tension by Sarah Gray. It operates on so many levels. This brilliant romance revolves around a young woman’s first flush of love for a charismatic but abusive man as well as her growing need to love and care for herself, before finding a mature and sustainable love with a darling man. Read it. You’ll laugh, cry, and fall madly in love with Gray’s writing.
Happy Valentine’s Day.